Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The paths of righteousness

Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: 103-199

Now that the atmosphere's been properly established, Cather is focusing a little more on the daily events of the New Mexican priests' lives. In addition to Latour, there's also Father Vaillant, his immediate subordinate and good friend. At one point, Latour has to go rescue Vaillant from a measles-ridden village, but in general the two work together and travel together as a team. We've also become acquainted with Martinez, another local priest who is nowhere near as noble as our two gentlemen, but instead is a glutton and sexual predator who eventually kills a local servant and is executed by his parishioners as a result.

Cather is clearly focusing on character and plot a little more here, but to recount all of the vignettes that she discusses would be both difficult and uninteresting. Suffice it to say that the book continues to be beautiful and realistic. She's walking a fine line with the idea of racism against the Native Americans in the area, and seems to be depicting her priests as various points along that continuum. I'll be interested to see how the novel ends and what conclusions she seems to draw with that ending, if any, about the role of the church in America, or in any place in which its largely concerned with converting a native population.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Land of enchantment

Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: 3-103

Look, I actually read! I'm a good girl! And I was right to look forward to this book; it's quite compelling, though oddly so.

Father Jean Marie Latour is the newly appointed Apostolic Bishop to New Mexico, shortly after it has become a United States territory, in 1851. DCftA so far consists of his experiences in his new bishopric as he struggles with the terrain and the resistance of some its inhabitants to his authority. That said, most of the New Mexicans we've met so far, including Kit Carson, have been both welcoming to and grateful for a Catholic priest in their midst. Mostly Bishop Latour has been making trips throughout the area to complete the weddings and christenings that have gone long unperformed, assuring that his flock is in line with the requirements of the faith for entry into heaven. (Because God doesn't let people into heaven if they haven't been sprinkled with water. Everybody knows that. Also if they've had sex. Like ever.)

I'd say that the real draw of this book is in its slow and careful crafting of both atmosphere and character, rather than the events it describes. The plot is important, in its own way, but more because it tells us who Latour is and helps us to understand how his character presents itself than because Cather is trying to tell the story of early New Mexico. It is as though there is no real story; there is simply what is happening. It's not that Cather has picked out the important events and shown them to us, but rather that she began telling the story in one place, and will end it in another. Some readers might be bothered by this because it necessarily makes the book measured and deliberate instead of fast-paced and plot-driven, but I find it compelling in that it imparts an incredible degree of realism to the prose. There is no part of me that does not accept what Cather writes as truth. Look at that again. That means that, while I see her artistry in presenting characters and situations because I'm reading critically and I've been trained to do so, I still think of this book as a collection of things that are happening, not a story. That's an impressive feat.

How, you might be wondering, is she accomplishing all this? It's very difficult to say. Her prose is shockingly modern for 1927, moving almost into post-modern starkness, but with a large amount of lush description that aligns her more clearly with her period. That said, her beautiful use of descriptive verbs coupled with her precision of language in her depictions of the landscapes and architecture of the area show her masterful hand at an almost poetic level of composition. A couple of examples follow, because I simply can't help myself:
"The sandy soil of the plain had a light sprinkling of junipers, and was splotched with masses of blooming rabbit brush, - that olive-coloured plant that grows in high waves like a tossing sea, at this season covered with a thatch of bloom, yellow as gorse, or orange like marigolds," (94).

"These cloud formations seemed to be always there, however hot and blue the sky. Sometimes they were flat terraces, ledges of vapour; sometimes they were dome-shaped, or fantastic, like the tops of silvery pagodas, rising one above another, as if an oriental city lay directly behind the rock. The great tables of granite set down in an empty plain were inconceivable without their attendant clouds, which were a part of them, as the smoke is part of the censer, or the foam of the wave," (95).
Those are close together because they're where I opened the book; I could find dozens. I can't count, already, the number of times I've read something she's described and had that internal moment of absolute accord, when you think to yourself, "Yes. Yes, that's exactly how it is." (Perhaps she has more of a pull on me because I've lived in the desert Southwest, but I'm dying to go there now, and see the reds and golds and smoke-blues that she so excellently recalls to the forefront of my memory.)

Combine all of that with her ability to show the very nature of the characters with their words and actions, rather than ever, ever telling the reader who they are and why, and it's hard not to love her writing, even if the plot is slow and measured. Life, after all, is slow and measured, and life is what Cather is showing us.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

He knew no haste.

Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: None

I'm such a slacker on the weekends. Maybe I ought to start calling the weekends automatic hiatuses. (Hiati? Anyone?)

The funny thing is that I'm actually quite looking forward to reading this book. It just keeps not happening. I did read two other books in their entireties this weekend, so that might have something to do with it. They weren't even that good. I can't really explain it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: None

Shit, it's almost midnight! I didn't read. ::insert jazz hands::

Friday, March 27, 2009

It's not looking good for the Archbishop.

Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: Soon! (Another post later today, I hope.)

Willa Cather is finally here, so I just have to go and pick her up.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Glom of nit

Current book: Somewhere between libraries

I'm still waiting for Death Comes for the Archbishop, so I can't post, quite obviously, until I get it. I hope it'll be tomorrow, because, really, how long can it take to get a book from one part of Saint Paul to another? I mean, sheesh, Library. It'd be faster to mail them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another for a needle

Current book: The Wind in the Willows
Pages read: 99-205 (end)

I was right about finishing the book today. It did get a bit more plotty, though not by a whole lot, and it also got significantly more preachy, which was unfortunate. There were still cute illustrations, though, and I found the whole thing fairly pleasant.

Mole and Rat save the lost child of their friend Otter one day by tracking him down in the woods at dawn after having searched for him all night. When they find him, they have a bizarre religious experience where they both see the figure of Pan and acknowledge him as God/Nature. (It's weirdly Judeo-Christian, somehow, even though it's clearly Pan that they find in the woods, complete with pipes and horns and everything. I can't really explain it. I wanted Grahame to be awesome by making a bid for modern paganism, but I'd be lying if I said he was.)

Other than finding the baby otter, and a brief episode in which Rat is struck with wanderlust as a result of the visit of a seafaring rat (And is also subsequently "cured" of his impulse to explore by Mole's reminders of the comforts of home...I'm beginning to feel like Grahame had unfortunate travel experiences early in life or something. I mean, Christ, Ken, people can go on trips now and again; the world won't end.), the rest of the book consists mainly of resolving Toad's personal and legal problems. Toad gets sprung from jail by the kindly jailer's daughter, and after sprinting across the countryside in fugitive recklessness wearing a washerwoman's clothes as a disguise, finally finds Rat, Mole, and Badger again. They admonish him for his idiotic behavior and ungrateful reactions to everyone who's tried to help him (And those are certainly fair assessments, for he is ludicrously foolish, and so stubborn about his own stupidity that it undermines the story by making him into a caricature rather than a character.), but in the end formulate a plan to aid him in regaining his ancestral Toad Hall, currently occupied by a raucous band of stoats and weasels (which seems classist, somehow, since they're described as layabouts who don't wash or work for a living, but maybe I should lighten up on the Marxist analysis, since it's a children's book). They sneak in through a secret passage that leads to the butler's pantry and lay about them with cudgels and sticks, scattering the cowardly Mustelidae with a minimum of effort. Afterward, Toad seems to have learned his lessons of humility and restraint, and throws a large and successful banquet for all the creatures of the wood and river.

My impressions remain much the same as yesterday: it's a bit too moral for my taste, encourages a maintenance of routine, and tends to exaggerate the ridiculous for comical effect, but is still mostly charming and entertaining. It is not one of the 1oo greatest novels of all time. But I enjoyed it, which is a nice change.

In theory, Willa Cather tomorrow, but she's got to make it over to my library first.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bliss tomorrow and more and on

Current book: The Wind in the Willows
Pages read: 1-98

I'm almost halfway through, and Mr. Badger has only just arrived, really, in a dressing gown rather than a waistcoat, but I'll take it. It's a bit hard to relate the plot of this book due to the fact that it's really more like a collection of short stories than anything with plot, but I think I can manage.

It begins with Mole leaving his home after winter and meeting Rat, with whom he quickly becomes very good friends. (Actually, this part was a little awkward. Every time one cute, anthropomorphised animal meets another, they become fast friends for no good reason. I'm going to let it slide as a quirk of a kids' book written in 1908, but it's annoying.) Anyway, they embark on various adventures together that include punting, picnics, and eventually visiting Mr. Toad at Toad Hall. Toad seems to be the richest and most foolish of the animals that live in the area, and is always getting obsessed with expensive hobbies like sailing. Mole, Rat, and Toad go on a caravan trip together in a lovely canary-yellow gypsy wagon, but their adventure is cut short by a motorcar that sideswipes them off the road. Instead of being angry and disgusted at the car and its driver, Toad admires the power and speed of the car and takes up motoring as his new obsession.

Mole and Rat also go to visit Badger in the Wild Wood, though they get lost in the snow on the way and end up staying the night. On their way home, they stop by Mole's old house and entertain a family of young mice out caroling (Which is, I must admit, cute beyond all reason, and the text of the included Christmas carol makes me want to learn the melody and sing it at every possible occasion. That would be dorky and ridiculous, of course, but don't underestimate the extent to which I'm devoted to all things Christmasy.). The following summer, Badger and Rat decide that Toad's driving is out of control and stage an intervention, but the mad amphibious motorist escapes them, steals someone else's car, and crashes spectacularly, after which he's thrown in jail by the local magistrate with a sentence of twenty years.

I'm charmed by many of the scenes, and the illustrations in my edition are contributing significantly to my affection by being both gorgeous and heartwarming. The canary-yellow caravan and the mice singing carols struck chords of wanderlust and nostalgia in me, and I can't express how much I'm longing to have a picnic right now. It is also, of course, a breeze to read, especially compared to most of the other books on the list. All that said, there's a tendency to moralize, characteristic of the children's literature of this period, that's weighing down Grahame's writing with straitjacketed axioms. The values he's communicating aren't necessarily sunshine and buttercups, either. They have a tendency to advise the reader to stick to the status quo and avoid danger and its attendant adventure:

"For others the asperities, the stubborn endurance, or the clash of actual conflict, that went with Nature in the rough; he must be wise, must keep to the pleasant places in which his lines were laid and which held adventure enough, in their way, to last for a lifetime," (64).

In some ways it reminds me of The Hobbit, actually, in its appreciation of the pastoral English landscape coupled with the wanderings and adventures of humorously bumbling but ultimately endearing homebodies. That said, (and God help me, because I'm about to praise Tolkien) The Hobbit actually comes down on the side of adventure and wandering, encouraging free thought and risk-taking, whereas The Wind in the Willows wants its reader to stay home and be safe.

I also think that there's some satire of the upper class going on here. It's not biting or particularly sharp, but all of these animals seem to wander around wasting time with picnics and motoring, getting obsessed with fads and meddling in each others' business. If that's not mockery of the aristocracy, I don't know what is.

I suspect I'll finish tomorrow, so I'm crossing my fingers that Interlibrary Loan will get Willa Cather to my branch library on time. Death, after all, awaits the archbishop. Who am I to stand in the way?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gnothi seauton.

Current book: This Side of Paradise
Pages read: 197-255 (end)

I'd describe the rest of the plot to you, but there are two fundamental problems that stand in my way. The first is that there wasn't really any more plot, and the second is that the plot is completely irrelevant to the point of the book. Are you thinking to yourself, "Wait, really? How can a book be any good if the plot isn't important?" You should be. It can't.

I lied, because here's what happens in the last sixty pages or so: Amory wanders around aimlessly, falls in and out of love with another girl, and decides that he can't really believe in any particular philosophy, religion, or set of goals, but really knows only himself.

I think Fitzgerald is trying to give us a portrait of the coming-of-age of a young man in his diseased modern era. He's attempting to display Amory as an archetype of the youth of the early 20th century - educated, a little debauched, and in the end, disaffected. That said, the one thing Amory does end up clinging to is the value of his love for Rosalind, the only girl in his string of women that he was really and truly in love with, and who left him for the man with more money. I like that love is what's important, both to Amory and Fitzgerald, and I can respect that Fitzgerald is trying to make the point that his society is askew because money won over the purity of human passion. That said, I found the plot tedious at best, and the repetition of the same events - Amory taking up a philosophy or business venture or girl-of-the-moment and then getting disillusioned and/or heartbroken - obnoxious and predictable. I understand that the point wouldn't have been as well made without the repetition, nor would Amory's eventual conclusion that he can only know himself been as believable, but that didn't make me really enjoy reading it.

Then again, it was better than The Beautiful and Damned. Quite a bit, actually. I liked Amory, for starters, and felt that the decisions he made were believable and sympathetic, as opposed to Fitzgerald's other characters, who are pretty much universally loathsome. Also, I think Fitzgerald had a really good time in college, and that makes me like him a little more.

Sometimes I just don't know about the people who made this list. It's like they haven't actually read the novels, but instead just wrote things down that would make it look good. It's my current working theory.

Tomorrow: talking animals with illustrations!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

But half his foe

Current book: This Side of Paradise
Pages read: 152-197

Within these forty-five pages, Amory met and fell in love with one of his friends' sisters who broke his heart and married a super-rich guy instead of our hero. Mercenary wench. Then Amory went on a three-week bender that was cut short by Prohibition.

That is all.

Also, Fitzgerald went all random-script-excerpts on me again. You can't just write chunks of play in the middle of a novel. Can you? I vote no, damn it.

I can't wait for The Wind in the Willows. There are coloured-pencil illustrations of badgers in waistcoats, you guys. Badgers. In waistcoats.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sometimes you just need popcorn.

Current book: This Side of Paradise
Pages read: None

Ok, ok, I know. But look, I had to have a break after Atlas Shrugged, and F. Scott just wasn't providing quite enough whimsy. What can I say?

Instead, I've been reading (and have now finished) Belong to Me, by Marisa de los Santos, which, while I don't think anyone's going to call it great literature anytime soon, was really good for a nice chick-lit read. The characters were really compelling (Including one who went to one semester of English grad school and quit because of the fact that no one loved books. Now, where have I heard that before?), and I was just so glad to read a book that pulled me in and kept me reading instead of slogging.

So. Fitzgerald again soon, I swear.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I am ashamed.

Current book: This Side of Paradise
Pages read: None

I don't even have a good excuse. I just read another book instead.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dei sub numine viget

Current book: This Side of Paradise
Pages read: 81-152

Amory broke up with Isabelle, read and discussed a lot more books and philosophy, failed an exam that kept him out of the prestigious cadre of Princeton leaders, briefly fell in love with this third cousin, graduated, and went to World War I. His mother and father died. Then he came back to live in New York.

I swear to you that that's all that's happened, and I don't even have anything to say about it. Fitzgerald is providing a convincing and realistic portrait of a young, wealthy college boy in the late 19-teens. I...yeah. Sorry.

Oh, I almost forgot! He glimpsed his own mortality when one of his friends died in a car accident and keeps thinking that he sees his friend's ghost. There you go - occult intrigue!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The old college try

Current book: This Side of Paradise
Pages read: 11-81

I'm astonished to say that so far I'm actually enjoying this book. The main character, Amory Blaine, while a bit on the useless rich guy side, is not actually utterly despicable, which makes a lovely change from most of Fitzgerald.

So far we've ushered Amory through his childhood and early college years. Amory was born to a wealthy mother and father and raised with all the proper appurtenances of the wealthy, although he did spend two years of his youth in Minneapolis learning about how the bourgeois live. (Ahem.) He attended prep school in Connecticut, and is now enrolled at Princeton, where he's coming to the end of his sophomore year.

The plot is really less important than watching Amory's intellectual development, which has progressed from the characteristic arrogance of youth to the characteristic arrogance of young adulthood. I jest, but it's true on some level. Amory has always been interested in literature and poetry, but sleeps through most of his college courses and instead reads his own selections during the nights. He gallivants about with his college friends, joining the Princeton comedy group and a respectable fraternity, and generally engages in the sorts of things that college students do. There are spontaneous trips to the shore, cutting classes in the interests of enjoying spring days, and other such mad exploits. (Seeing as it's gorgeous outside here, it's making me think rather fondly of college springtime, I have to say. Not that I ever cut classes. Because that would be wrong.) Anyway, the only other point to note is that he's fallen in love, or at least the semblance of it, with Isabelle, a girl from home. We shall see what develops. My supposition is that it'll end in tears one way or another.

It really is entertaining so far, perhaps largely because of the college nostalgia, but due in part to the fact that Fitzgerald includes some snarky narration and a healthy sense of the comical and absurd. It's also highly amusing that "speeds" (fast girls) are considered to be such because of the fact that they're prone to kissing men whom they've met only once or twice. Oh, the scandal!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To a logical yet absurd conclusion

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 747-1070 (end)

The satisfaction I get from the above parenthetical is not to be underestimated. I'm so incredibly, soul-relievingly glad to be done with this damned thing that I cannot properly express it, even in the ever-so-eloquent and unfailingly apropos prose which it is my habit to employ and to which you, dear readers, have become accustomed. ::modest cough::

Guess what? More infrastructure collapses in the last 300 pages. (I know, I know, how could we possibly have seen it coming, right? Well, Ayn Rand keeps you turning the pages, you know. As fast as you can. So that they'll be over. Finally, finally, over. Ok, I'll move on to actually describing what little plot there is.) Basically, things continue to get worse and worse until the nation grinds almost to a complete halt. At the same time, the government unveils the secret Project X (the one for which Rearden's metal had been demanded). It turns out to be a sonic weapon that can completely destroy both living and non-living objects remotely and at a great distance. (Rand seems to be commenting here that the government is spending money on useless scientific projects when the people are starving. Which is not what I would have expected, but does fit with Objectivism in that giant weapons are not, in fact, sources of profit. Well, not in a worldwide recession, but one could make an argument that there are circumstances in which they would be...)

Eventually, economic circumstances manage to beat Dagny and Hank Rearden down so that they, too, want to join John Galt in his valley of fun instead of continuing to run businesses of which the solvencies are thwarted time and time again by the government. (Yes, that sentence was quite awkward. But I used the word thwarted, so I call it a win.) At this point, John Galt interrupts a nationwide radio broadcast and gives an address to the nation that summarizes all of Rand's point and ideals and lasts for 65-95 pages, depending on your edition. I'd clock it at about 120 minutes of uninterrupted philosophizing. (There were several surprising points in it which I will discuss shortly, and most of which I disagreed with vehemently. (And vocally, because my husband worked from home today. I'm sure he can tell you all about it.))* The speech galvanizes the nation, which I find perhaps the most farfetched moment in the book (Even worse than the cloaking device, really. That's right. Romulans are far more believable than this next bit.), because when was the last time the nation was galvanized by two hours of philosophy over the radio? I mean, really. Anyway, everyone turns against the government, and as a result, the government decides that it needs to have John Galt as speaker and supreme leader. Of course, rather than take up the mantle of leadership, Galt refuses on the grounds that he'd be working for those he most loathes.

Then (And oh, man, you are not even ready for the super-dramatic ridiculousness of this...or maybe you are, because subtlety would be far more of a surprise than absurd histrionics at this point) they arrest and physically torture John Galt with electricity to try to make him solve their problems with his philosophy and intellect. In a bunker. I'm not joking. (Seriously, Ayn Rand? I mean, really, seriously? Are you kidding me with this?) So, anyway, Frisco and Ragnar Danneskjold and Dagny come cowboying (Yes, that's totally a word. Because I say so.) in to save the day, and spirit themselves and Galt back to the magical cloaked valley of money, where Dagny and Galt will be husband and wife and everybody will pay everybody else for everything forever. There, they all rest and recuperate while the country finishes both crumbling and accepting Galt's philosophy, and then vow to go out and rebuild the world in the name of the almighty dollar. (Do you think I'm exaggerating? I'm not. Let me share with you the stunning last sentence: "He [John Galt] raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar," (1070). Gag me with a free market economy.)

Well, guess how I liked it? To add a grain of salt to my vehemence, there are pieces of Objectivism that make sense to me, and I'm not a supporter of Communism because of its inherent practical flaws, but frankly, Objectivism carried to this level is just as flawed as its opposite. Extremes of this nature are pretty much universally impractical to suggest within a framework of realistic application.

In John Galt's speech, he demanded that people think for themselves and apply logical and rationality to their decisions. I'm for it. To take that principle and draw from it the conclusion that rationality must rule every decision and that everything else that might influence any decision is not only stupid, but evil, however, is both unrealistic and morally flawed. Yes, I realize that Objectivists would argue that morality, especially as it relates to emotion, is an invalid set of standards, but think about it this way. If one were to make the decision to go outside on a beautiful day instead of stay inside and work for one's own profit, one would technically be choosing the irrational course of action, because in Rand's world, the profit would make one happier, in the end, than the beautiful day, and personal happiness is, after all, the only logical goal. But would it really? Isn't choosing the present, emotional pull of the sun and blue sky really the more rational decision because it makes one happier in the moment? Is it wrong, then, to make a much more concrete financial decision based on the same principle? If one chooses to forsake thousands of dollars in order to return to the person one loves a year earlier than one would if one took the money (as your beloved authoress once did) is that an invalid or even evil decision because it hurts one's personal financial stability, or is it the correct decision because it increases one's personal happiness? Even Objectivism might have trouble coming down on a side on that argument because of the fact that happiness can be difficult to quantify, but the point that I'm making is not that my decision was the right or wrong one because I thought through it logically and came to a conclusion based on a rationally considered set of criteria. I didn't. The point that I'm making is that logic didn't come into it. My love and my heart and my soul left me no choice. And that's ok sometimes. Sometimes emotions are better criteria for decision than logic and rationality. Because we're humans, god damn it. Objectivism would not agree, and it's for that that I am left no alternative but to reject it.

My other main issue with Galt's speech and the Objectivist tenets it embodies was the part where he claims that to every issue there is a right and a wrong side, and to stand anywhere in the middle ground is both a form of idiocy and an expression of evil. For god's sake, a child could refute that claim in its sleep. I'm not even dignifying it with an argument.

Finally, I was surprised at how vehemently anti-religion Galt's speech was, not so much because it didn't fit with Objectivism, but because of how widely embraced this book is by the Conservative world. I mean, he basically comes out and says that faith is form of abject stupidity, and that those who support and encourage faith are parasites on the ignorant public. He's referring to both religious faith and faith in the institutions of government, but still. I can't see that playing well with the religious establishment.

I'm done talking about this now. Pretty much forever. Until I have to read the next Rand book on the list. That will be a dark, dark day. Let it be a symbol of my loathing for this book that I am looking forward to the F. Scott Fitzgerald that's next on the list. Pity me, dear readers.

*Grammar mavens (if there are any of you out there aside from myself), if you are wondering whether I am aware of the fact that brackets are the prescribed form of punctuation to enclose a parenthetical within another parenthetical, I am, and I flaunt my double parentheses in flagrant violation of said prescription. Flagrantly I flaunt them!

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm terribly vexed.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 523-747

Powering through happened somewhat today, as you can see. I wish I could tell you there were revelations of great import in these more than 200 pages, but I can't. There weren't.

The infrastructure of the United States continues to collapse bit by bit, and at some point one of the great railway tunnels gets destroyed, which brings Dagny, who can't stand to see her creation crumble, back from her self-imposed exile. When she returns, Frisco D'Anconia and Hank Rearden finally find out about one another (i.e. that they both love Dagny and have had sex with her) and have a little confrontation which ends with Frisco leaving and Dagny and Hank having violent sex. (It's a little disturbing; I'm not gonna lie.) Also, Hank gets a visit from Ragnar Danneskjold (who, aside from having the coolest name ever, is a pirate and terrorist attacking the industrial world on behalf of entrepreneurs everywhere) and has a conversation with him in which Ragnar explains that he's the modern figure of Robin Hood, stealing from the government to give back to rich what's rightfully theirs. Hank rejects him because he feels that stealing and crime are still wrong, but is obviously swayed by his arguments, and ends up covering for him with the police and taking the gold bar that Ragnar had brought him as a gift.

Meanwhile, Dagny, trying to save her railroad, ends up engaging in a thrilling airplane chase with one of her gifted engineers, who's running away to disappear like all the other titans of business have in the past year or so. Pursuing him through the mountains, she eventually loses him and ends up crashing her airplane...into the secret, cloaked valley that contains John Galt's weird Objectivist utopia. (Which, I don't know, cloaking device? Really? I feel like I want a Romulan Bird of Prey to shoot down Dagny's plane or something.) There she finds all of her old business partners and friends, and they all try to convince her to give up the railroad, to give up working for a society that doesn't value her, and come away to join them. In the valley, nothing is given for free and everyone has his or her own production line, as it were. There's lots of storytelling of how each one of them came to the decision that John Galt and his ideas were correct (because far be it from Ayn Rand to use one person as an example and let it stand at that), but Dagny remains uncertain about what to do. Because she has no money, she trades her services cooking and cleaning for John Galt for room and board for a month, which is how long they insist she stays before she can go back to the world.

During this month, it becomes clear that John Galt wants her for his wife, and that she, for some reason, wants him back. (I'm avoiding the word love here, because I don't think that has much to do with it. She only seems to want him because he's some bastion of logic, and he only seems to want her because of her entrepreneurial instincts. Call me crazy, but I don't see a lot of love there. Also, I find it obnoxious that she has to cook and clean for him before she can "earn" the right to be his wife. Rand's word, not mine.) Anyway, we also get to hear the motto of John Galt's utopia in here, which is "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." (More on that in a second.) Eventually, Dagny decides she can't stay, that she still has to try to run the railroad because the world deserves a chance, and running away is both cowardly and anathema to her nature. (Right on, Dagny, right on.) She leaves at the end of the month, and John Galt informs her that he's following her back out into the world so that when she changes her mind, he can bring her back to the valley. (I have no doubt that she will, because Ayn Rand is smug and self-satisfied that way, but that doesn't stop him from sounding like a condescending bastard, regardless of the fact that he claims he's doing it because he loves her.)

All right, so, about that motto, then. While I see that Rand is trying to get the point across that each person is responsible for his or her own welfare, I think she's ultimately unsuccessful in that it comes across as a message of ultimate lack of compassion for one's fellow human beings. Instead of "Stand on your own two feet and work for what's yours," which is a solid principle, it seems more like, "Do whatever it takes to succeed and place no importance on love, friendship, or loyalty. Do not help another person in need if it might cost you anything at all." Bullshit, is what I say. If I'm on my way to an important business meeting and someone's bleeding to death in the street, I'm going to stop and save his goddamn life, and I don't care if it costs me money.

The emotional component of this might seem separate from the philosophical and economic components, but it's not really. Yes, there are plenty of arguments against government control of business, and I understand that that's what Rand wants us to apply this to, but I can't help but think of it on a personal, human-by-human basis. John Galt's utopian society only works if everyone who follows the tenet of never living for another man also adds, "I swear never to harm another man simply to add to my profits." But Ayn Rand doesn't want to talk about the fact that pure profit-seeking behavior must have some kind of limits, because otherwise it can happen at the expense of human rights and even lives. The ugly side of unregulated industry is not, apparently, worth mentioning.

She vexes me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stop reading and go out to play!

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: None

It was 55 degrees today. What do you want from me? I know, I know. Reading.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Buying jeans supports Objectivism. Somehow.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: None

Today was not the aforementioned day of powering through. It was, instead, the day of work, shopping, and good Indian food. I like my way better. And I don't have to care about your feelings? See, it still doesn't work for me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Laziness always pays off now.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: None

Couldn't bring myself to do it. One of these days I'm going to have to sit down and power through this thing, or I'm never going to get done. This is definitely the hardest one yet. It's actually sapping my desire to read anything. For me, that says a lot.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Better dead than Red.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 491-523

In this section we witnessed a meeting of all the big bad men behind the (I'm going to ahead and call it Communist) government and saw them decide to nationalize all industry, jobs, wages, and salaries and freeze them at their current rates. We also saw them do everything short of rub their hands together and laugh evilly. (If I make myself think of them as cartoon bad guys, this book works a lot better. But that's hardly a convincing political argument, now is it?) Afterward, their representative visits Hank Rearden and threatens to expose his affair with Dagny if he doesn't sign the patent on his metal over to the government. For no apparent reason, he decides that he can't expose her to that kind of public ridicule, though he'd be happy to take it on himself, and so he signs the certificate.

I'm annoyed by the fact that Hank thinks Dagny wouldn't want to make the stand herself, and I find it pretty patronizing. Sometimes I find myself wondering if this book is misogynistic, regardless of the fact that it was written by a woman, and then I realize that it's actually just misanthropic. Rand seems to despise people in general.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To say "I love you" one must first be able to say the "I."

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 442-491

Blah. It's still the same and still obnoxious. Rearden finishes his trial statement, which is just as I described yesterday, and is cheered as a hero by the public and the witnesses in the courtroom. Rand makes it clear, however, that that celebration won't really have any effect, and public opinion will continue to go against the industrialists, regardless of the fact that the public can clearly see that the government is really at fault. (I don't know where Ayn Rand came up with the theory that people don't blame the government for their woes, but apparently she'd never read, listened to, or seen anything related to actual politics when she wrote this. I exaggerate, but come on.)

Where I was I? Oh, right, it doesn't matter because every page is the same damn thing. Ahem. More industrial collapse happens, and eventually Taggert Transcontinental makes the decision to close the John Galt Line, which is the only rail line still running to Colorado. Dagny Taggert's upset, but not crushed, by the decision, and Frisco D'Anconia (who is obviously, at this point, John Galt's disciple and mouthpiece) comes to console her in her time of need. (No, not in the biblical sense.) Just afterward, Lillian Rearden, Hank's wife, finally confronts him about his affair with Dagny, and Rearden refuses to give it up, regardless of her shrill and even violent demands. However, Lillian vows to remain married to him in order to keep his money and make him as miserable as possible. (Lovely woman.) Rearden, as a result of her vitriol, feels freed by the fact that he no longer needs to worry about her feelings, and realizes that they don't, in fact, matter.

A couple of things. First, I was really turned off by Rearden's realization that his wife's feelings don't matter. I accept that fact that she's a pretty horrible person and only used him for his money and position, but at the same time, the description of his realization indicates to me that he finds her feelings unimportant simply because they offer no benefit to him.

"It was the knowlege that it did not matter to him what Lillian felt, what she suffered or what become of her, and more: not only that it did not matter, but the shining, guiltless knowledge that it did not have to matter," (491).

Hmm. I read that as a statement about the inherent worth of a person that implies that some people have none. While there have been times in my life when I might have agreed, I would argue that the suffering and feelings of a human being always have to matter, even if it is only because of the recognition of the fact that that person could, but for the machinations of chance, be you.

Second, I actually quite liked Frisco D'Anconia's explanation of the Objectivist understanding of love. The person you choose to love, he says in a conversation with Hank Rearden, represents your assessment of yourself. If you love someone who is as good a person as you can find, who you believe is one of the paragons of humanity, it is a reflection of the fact that you believe in and recognize those qualities in yourself. While it may sound like a form of conceit, I really like this idea, and I feel that it's reflected in the love that I have experienced myself and that I've seen in the world around me. I certainly see it in successful relationships, and I see that unsuccessful relationships are often crippled by the fact that at least one of the participants doesn't believe that he or she in inherently worthy, of either the other participant or, in fact, love itself. I often see people choose unworthy partners, as well, because their self-esteem does not allow them to find someone who is truly their equal. So that bit of philosophy was actually new, interesting, and enlightening, which was a lovely change from the last 400 pages or so.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I wish John Galt were an editor.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 344-442

I'm getting exasperated with Ayn Rand. The title of this book should actually be Hitting You Over the Head With a Giant Stick Again and Again. Which would not be much less subtle than the actual title, when you think about it.

I'll tell you what happened, though God knows why I bother, since all you really need to do is go read the definition of Objectivism and you've got everything of import out of this leaden tome. Ahem. So, the collapse of American industry continues, and one by one the great leaders of the country begin retiring after visits from a mysterious figure. (::cough John Galt cough::). It's implied, though not directly stated, that he's convincing them to stop working for the greater good because of the fact that the greater good isn't working for them. (It's also possible that it could be Francisco D'Anconia, since he comes to talk to Rearden about the same thing, but I think it's coincidental. Or they're working together for the same ends.) Dagny and Hank's affair continues, and eventually Hank's wife finds out, but nothing really happens as a result aside from the fact that she makes it clear she only married him for his material goods. (There's a shocker.) At the same time, James Taggert seduces and marries a poor working girl, purely because it will create the appearance of his personal charity and generosity. At the wedding reception, Francisco D'Anconia shows up and rants for a while about how great money is, after which he proceeds to inform the gathering that D'Anconia Copper stock will be completely destroyed the next morning after an unfortunate mining disaster. Everyone in the room seems to own the stock, which, in addition to proving that they're all hypocrites because they've invested heavily in foreign interests, sends them into a panic and ends the party in an embarrassing fashion.

As a result of Hank's denial of the government's request for Rearden metal, they threaten to put him on trial for selling more Rearden metal than he should have to another industrialist. He did, in fact, break the ridiculous rules that governed that sale, but instead of bowing to their blackmail, he tells them to go ahead and put him on trial, where he will finally be able to express his opinion to the public. Where we stand now, he's at the trial and in the midst of making a statement about how unfairly he's been treated, asserting that he refuses to defend himself because he's committed no crime.

Ayn Rand continues to make precisely the same point over and over again. Government control of profit-seeking is counter-productive and motivated as much by greed as profit-seeking itself. The free market is the only way to run an economy. Looking out for your personal interests is not only a natural impulse, but also a noble one. I GET IT.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ignorance is strength.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 245-344

I keep promising stories of sexual deviance, so let me follow up on that first. Hank Rearden seems to think that sexual impulses are despicable and disgusting, and to give in to them proves that you are an animal that cannot control its bodily desires. In addition to that, the act of giving in to them also invalidates your rational actions and accomplishments. It's really pretty messed up. Rand isn't advocating that view or anything, because Dagny Taggert laughs in his face and admits that she's definitely an animal and wants him for his body, but it's still a little disturbing that she includes it in the character of one of the protagonists. Nice that he's complex enough to have serious flaws, though.

To move on to new material, since we left the celebratory intercourse of Dagny and Hank, orders have poured into Rearden's company for Rearden metal, and public opinion has turned around about both the metal itself and Taggert Transcontinental. Unfortunately, the government and all of the completely illogical, ludicrously exaggerated (not that I have any opinions about the writing or anything) socialists in charge of industry in this hypothetical future United States have decided that Rearden would make far too great a profit if he were allowed to sell the metal as he sees fit. Not only are they controlling his industry by telling him how much metal he can sell to whom, but they're doing the same for the products of the coal, iron ore, and oil industries as well.

In the midst of this rather disastrous turn of events, Hank and Dagny go off on a pleasure tour of the country, which ends up being more like a tour of old factories that either or both of them might want to buy. At some point, they end up at the broken-down husk of what was once the greatest automobile factory in the country and discover in one of its abandoned workrooms the design for an engine that draws power from the static electricity in the air. (Physicists - does this seem possible to you? Because I was pretty annoyed by the illogical nature of the idea. I get that it's a symbol of a great new technology, rather than something that's meant to be realistic, but I like a little science in my science fiction, if that's where you're going to go with it.) This engine had the potential to revolutionize all industry all over the world - life itself, in fact - but was abandoned in the planning stages.

At this point, Dagny checks in with her office in order to learn about the fate of the automobile company and is informed that a bill has been passed that requires all companies in Colorado (the major location of the oil, iron, and coal companies) to give the government five percent of their sales. (This spells ruin. Look, don't ask me to explain it, it just does.) Their bizarre pseudo-vacation cut short, she and Hank return to deal with the fallout of the situation, and Dagny also vows to find the engineer who designed the engine so that she can make the plan a reality. As the industries of Colorado slowly collapse (and the CEO of the biggest oil company sets his own wells on fire, which is kind of awesome), Dagny searches unsuccessfully for the elusive engineer. She talks to several people in locations all over the place, but is eventually forced to give up after following all of her leads. Her last clue peters out in a discussion with a famous philosopher who has become a fry cook in a diner, and who once knew the engineer but won't tell Dagny his name. He espouses the futility of trying to accomplish anything with society in its current illogical state, and tells Dagny that when the engineer wants to find her, he will. (Raise your hand if you think the engineer's going to turn out to be John Galt. Oooo! Me! Me!)

That's pretty much where we are, with a little extra economic collapse thrown in. The Rearden Company just got a request for 10,000 tons of metal from the government for a secret project, and Hank is refusing to honor it, which I'm sure is going to end in trouble and possibly his downfall. The rebellious idea of refusing his metal to a government responsible for his personal ruin is nice, though. I'd be more on his side and enjoying that rebellion, honestly, if the opposition were at all logical, instead of a caricature of Rand's ideas of everything that can go wrong.

So, obivously, my major problem with this book still stands. Well, actually, let me amend that. Even if I were to look at the novel as a pure political treatise, I would find it, so far, to be a failure. An argument is not convincing if the counter-argument is so absurd as to be unrealistic. Therefore, Rand's argument is failing to convince me because of the fact that the opposition to it in the book is portrayed as nonsensical and hyperbolically illogical. If the book showed a government closer to that of the United States now, and illustrated the subtle and logical shift toward socialism and the negative results thereof, it would be far more persuasive and effective. Instead, because it reduces everything to black and white without quarter for intelligent compromise, it makes itself ridiculous. It reads like overdone propaganda; it's as though it were published by the Ministry of Truth. (Of course, the postage-paid postcard for more information from the Ayn Rand Institute that's glued into the middle didn't help with that.)

Only 724 pages to go.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hero of Time

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: None

Instead of reading Atlas Shrugged, I downloaded Ocarina of Time from the Wii Channel and played it all afternoon. I am not sorry.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Personal, selfish happiness.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: None

I promised you sexual scandal, but I'm not going to deliver, since I didn't read today. Instead I worked for five hours and then came home and fell asleep on my husband. That's like reading and analyzing Objectivist literature. Really, I'm just trying to live by the tenets of Objectivism. It made me happier to fall asleep than it did to read and then write on here to entertain all of you. So I'm just like free enterprise and profit-seeking big business. Only comfier.

Friday, March 6, 2009

My wife has friends who were...socialists.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 149 - 245

Including yesterday, this section basically illustrates Dagny Taggert and Hank Rearden's struggle to get the old Rio Norte line rebuilt using Rearden metal. They achieve the goal, but not before Rand belabors the point to hell and back that the government is trying as hard as it can to get in their way, largely through misguided efforts to equalize the market. In the end, Dagny Taggert breaks the line off of Taggert Transcontinental and makes it a separate business in order to prevent James from screwing around with it. She names it the John Galt line, after the colloquial phrase "Who is John Galt?," which means something along the lines of "Why does anything happen?" After the line is built and first train is run, with resounding success, Dagny and Hank Reardon fall into bed together.

That's the basic plot of this section, but in reality it's yet more defense of the free market and the fact that competition and profit-seeking benefit everyone, while socialism and a controlled market are artificial and damaging. Yeah. So, there you have it.

Also, Hank Rearden has some messed up ideas about sex. More on that tomorrow.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

One-track mind

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 111-149

No time for a post of real substance today, but more tomorrow. To quickly address a question in the comments from yesterday, though, I do know this book is more an Objectivist treatise than a novel, but I'm judging it as an entry on the list of the best 100 novels of all time. Therefore, I have to judge it on literary merit just like all of the others, regardless of the fact that it's going to make me completely crazy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'll stimulate your economy.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 71-111

In this section, we learn that the board of the National Railroad Association has decided to pass an "anti-dog-eat-dog" ruling that forbids competition among the railroads of America. Dagny Taggert is very much against this, of course, being a properly capitalist businesswoman. She and her major competitor in Colorado have an incredibly transparent discussion about how wrong it is to control a free market with artificial rules. (I have to say, maybe it's because I know the book is a great Objectivist treatise, but I found this part pretty heavy-handed. It's all "black and white, right and wrong, free markets are good and everything else is bad". There's no middle ground. It's as though Rand is so desperate to prove that capitalism is the best way to do things that she's begun on the rabid, fanatic defensive before we've even had a chance to interpret the situation.) Anyway, so we've got that happening, and also the rail line to Mexico that was under threat of nationalization has, in fact, been nationalized. Though the event should have proved to James Taggert that Dagny's right about how to run the company, instead he persists in being an idiot, both blaming her and taking credit for the decisions she made that minimized the financial losses that resulted from the nationalization.

At the same time, a large Mexican mining interest that we've learned belongs to an old friend of the Taggert family has also been nationalized, but, to the great chagrin of the Mexican government, the mines contain nothing of value. Dagny, upon learning this fact, sets up a meeting with that old friend, Francisco D'Anconia, regardless of the fact that they've been estranged for years. Dagny hasn't actually gotten to the meeting yet, because Rand is giving us the entire history of her relationship with Francisco (called Frisco for short) before she gets there. They played together as children, it seems, and were both equally determined to excel in their family businesses, consistently one-upping each other in good spirit throughout their young lives. In their teens, they fell into a relationship of sorts, providing each other's first sexual experience. Later, still romantically involved, Dagny witnessed the moment when Frisco discovered that pure, intense profit-seeking is not necessarily the way to win friends and influence people, as it were.

That's right where we are right now - it seems like he's about to confess that he simply can't play the overarching, cutthroat game of business anymore. (Again, a bit heavy-handed. We're seeing Frisco, once full of energy and even genius, broken by the inconsistency of a society that rewards something other than pure profit-seeking. It seems as though we're going to watch his life and worth be completely destroyed by all this, which seems a little ridiculous to me. I get the message, Ayn. At least I think. Maybe I'll be wrong, and she'll actually surprise me.) There was an excellent moment when Dagny and Frisco have their first romantic encounter, where Rand describes Dagny's feelings as existing in that place between wanting Frisco to be the aggressor, to take her and kiss her and make her his, and wanting to be free, to pull away from him and assert her independence and her female strength. That was a description that really hit home. I don't know if it applies to every woman, but it certainly resonated with my personal experience.

It's also interesting to think about this in the light of the recent developments in the American free market, and the pseudo-nationalization of the car companies and banking system. I don't have stunning economic insights about either of those or their relationships with Objectivism, largely because I have a poor understanding of the complex details of what's happening to the banks right now, but nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Communism is just a red herring.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 43-71

Nothing really happened in this set of thirty pages, aside from getting a lot more backstory on Dagny Taggert. She's quite the character, actually: a strong, independent business woman who knows precisely what she wants and has worked toward it her entire life. She and James have had more words about Rearden metal (I misspelled that yesterday, to my chagrin. Sorry.) and the Rio Norte rail line, which is the line Dagny wants to revamp. There's also a rail line to Mexico called the San Sebastian line, that's currently under threat of nationalization from the Mexican government. Aside from that, we've learned that Rearden's company men in Washington are crooked as hell and working with James Taggert to undermine Rearden's new product.

I have to say I'm impressed by Rand's ability to create depth in a small number of pages. Regardless of the fact that I said nothing happened in these pages, she's developing the characters swiftly and thoroughly, and creating a picture of the society in the novel that is evocative and haunting. There are obviously huge, sweeping social events coming, and we just have to wait and see how they unfold.

Still not an asshole.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Make sure you return it; I have notes in the margin.

Current book: Atlas Shrugged
Pages read: 11-43

So, it turns out that it's pretty damn hard to concentrate on reading while your husband's in surgery. That said, I got a little bit read after I could see him and hold his hand while he was asleep. It's not as though I've gotten to the Objectivist part of the novel yet, but I have to say that I'm not sure it's in the spirit of the book to be reading it while nursing your recovering husband. I could be wrong.

So far, we've met Eddie Willers, who's a middle-management type for the Taggart company, the two heads of that company, James and Dagny Taggart, who are brother and sister, and one of their materials suppliers, Hank Reardon. The Taggart company is a struggling railroad business (well, not actually struggling, since it's the most successful in the country) that's having financial troubles largely due to James's mismanagement. Dagny, who we're given to understand has a great deal of business acumen, is attempting to turn the company around by revitalizing one of the rail lines that's failing. She's going to do so by rebuilding the track, which has fallen into disrepair, with Hank Reardon's new Reardon Metal. James objects on principle, because although it's purported to be stronger and cheaper than steel, it hasn't yet been used by any other industry. Dagny seems like a real go-getter, and also her name has internal rhyme, so she must be destined for great things. What little we've seen of Hank Reardon has shown us that he's pulled both himself and the Philadelphia steel industry up by the bootstraps, and that his new invention holds in its future all his hopes and dreams. His wife and family are shrewish and cruel about his work and the promise it holds.

That's where we are, which is actually quite far for 30 pages or so. I don't know how I feel so far. The prose and dialogue are very direct, in a 60s science fiction sort of way, but not off-putting. It's too early to tell how things are going to develop. Obviously we're heading for a great dystopian lesson, but what that might be, I do not know.

I think this is about as far as I got when I started reading it years ago and decided I wasn't really interested. But now I'm in it for the long haul - all 1069 pages of it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

This frail song of hope and fear.

Current book: The French Lieutenant's Woman
Pages read: 198-350 (end)

I suppose I owe you a bit of an explanation for the long (for me) absence. My husband was in the emergency room on Wednesday with abdominal pain which was diagnosed as a gallstone, and I've spent the last few days taking care of him and visiting various doctors. He has surgery tomorrow morning, so I can't guarantee a post, but I'll have lots of time to read in the hospital, so you never know. The surgery's supposed to be very routine and is an outpatient procedure, but that doesn't stop me from worrying, because I am, in fact, female, and also in love with my husband. So there you go.

To get to the literature, things develop appropriately scandalously (Can I say that? It seems like a contradiction in terms. But then, I don't really care.) in the rest of Fowles's novel. Basically, Charles and Sarah fall in love with one another. Sarah is caught walking in the Undercliff by Mrs. Poulteney's servant, and, as a result, is kicked out of the house and promptly disappears. Charles goes rushing off looking for her, and when he finds her, they acknowledge their mutual affection, however doomed, with a kiss. Afterward, Sarah agrees to leave Lyme Regis and go to Exeter, where Charles is not to follow, but instead marry Ernestina like a good Victorian gentleman. Around this time, he's summoned to his uncle's house and told that his uncle is going to marry, which effectively disinherits him. While not a pauper by any means, this makes Ernestina's wealth greater than his own. In explaining this to Ernestina's father and offering to end the engagement because of his reduced circumstances, Charles discovers that he really does wish the engagement to be broken, and is disappointed when Ernestina's father generously excuses that necessity.

On his way back to Lyme Regis, he and Sam, his faithful servant, stop at Exeter for the night, and Charles is unable to resist the temptation of visiting Sarah there. (Sam, at this point, has a vested interest in Charles and Ernestina's engagement succeeding, due to the fact that Charles will "set him up for life" if he gets Ernestina's money. If the two don't marry, Sam won't get any money, and he's desperate for it in order to establish himself and Mary in the world.) Anyway, so Charles heads over to the hotel in which Sarah's been staying. When he sees her, he's unable to restrain himself, and they end up having sex. (If you can call it that, because really he barely lasts until he's inside her and then promptly ejaculates. Didn't seem like much fun for Sarah. Then again, it is Victorian England, in which it was widely believed that women were incapable of having orgasms. At least, it was believed by men. My guess is that if you took a look in the bedside drawers of Victorian women, you might find evidence to the contrary.) Afterward, she asks nothing of him, and even suggests it would be better for him to marry Ernestina and fulfill his duty. He discovers, however, due to rather visible evidence, that she was a virgin before their tryst. (If you don't recall, this news is rather shocking, since she told him the whole sad (and empowering) story of her defloration by Varguennes. I was shocked. I thought she'd made a strong and liberating sexual decision, but it all seems to be some sort of elaborate ruse. I'm still not sure why she did it. I think, really, it was to get Charles to have sex with her and commit himself, because she knew he'd be less likely to do so if she were a virgin. Technically, it was not any less a strong and liberating sexual decision to just lie about it, come to think of it.) So Charles departs in consternation and heads back to his hotel to consider his options.

In the end, after much soul-searching, he comes to the conclusion that he will break his engagement and marry Sarah. It is his duty, he thinks, to both love and to himself, rather than to the constraints of society, he concludes, that is most important. (And hurray for Charles! He's really strong and quite admirable, which seems a strange thing to call a man who's just cheated on his fiance.) He sends Sarah a letter to this effect, delivered by Sam's hand, and then heads to Lyme Regis to inform Ernestina. She does not take it well. (There's screaming and fainting. It's really not pretty.) When Charles goes back to Exeter, though, he finds Sarah gone, and through his investigations, he's determines that Sam, the mercenary traitor, never delivered the letter to her that informed her of his intentions.

Charles spends the next couple of years searching London, the Continent, and America for Sarah, but also assuaging his agony and rather abrupt drop in social status through the anonymity of travel. Finally, he gets word from his solicitor that Sarah's been found, and goes to visit her. He finds her living in the house of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which is sort of odd and random, and quite happy in her circumstances. She's acting as Rossetti's assistant and model, and, insert music sting here, has given birth to and begun raising Charles's daughter. Charles again asserts his wish to marry her, and she refuses, saying that she has never been so happy and she cannot bear to enter into a marriage in which she would have to bow to a man's control, however amiable. Charles is shocked and hurt, and can't understand the fact that she's not able to make the emotional commitment that a marriage requires. Instead, she offers him a platonic friendship centered around their daughter, but he, shackled by the conventions of society, yes, but also by his need for the intensity of romantic love, refuses, and leaves her forever.

So, it was really good. Fowles has a million things to say about society, and he does so in a complex and subtle fashion that gives his characters a dimensionality rivaled only in the best of novels. Their flaws and irrationalities are neither maddening nor nonsensical, but rather presented so intelligently and realistically that they seem organic and human. As events unfold, we're given a clear picture of the pressures of Victorian England and the agony of breaking out of the straits they create. Fowles shows us not only the favorite literary subject of the upper class, but dips into that of the lower class; while his picture of Sam and Mary makes up less of the novel, it is no less complex. They, too, are multi-faceted and ambiguous.

Still in love with Fowles. This one is definitely worthy of the list.

Next up, the great treatise of Objectivism! Since I'm not reading it in high school, the chances that I'll finish it and act like an asshole for a couple of weeks are greatly reduced.


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